The workplace is changing, and changing fast. It is no longer
just how smart we are, by our professional training and expertise,
which determines success in careers. Today, more than ever,
personal qualities like initiative, empathy, adaptability
and persuasiveness feature prominently. Whatever the career,
understanding how to cultivate these capabilities is essential
Companies today do not just compete on products alone anymore.
It is becoming more important to manage the people in the
company well. Massive change is constant. The pace of technical
innovations, global competition and the pressures from investors
are forces that compel change. Organisations trim and downsize.
Job security has been much weakened. The people who remain
are made to be more visible and more accountable.
This is the price we pay for a dynamic economy. Economists
tell us that as the economy moves to a high-tech, service-based
stage of development, labour market flexibility is here to
stay, and becoming ever more prominent. And that brings about
fear, apprehension and confusion for everyone. Instead of
‘job for life’, it is now about having a suitable
job for the present bag of skills one has at any stage of
Maintaining higher wages across the board also demands a
new kind of productivity. Structural fixes or technological
advances are no longer the complete picture for success takes
more than intellectual excellence or technical prowess. Competencies
like managing one’s emotions, handling encounters well,
teamwork and leadership, count more than ever. Team building,
adaptability to change and new challenges all demand new talents
and competencies, as well as internal qualities, like initiative,
optimism and adaptability.
We already see more and more job advertisements that feature
requirements like listening and oral communication; adaptability
and creativity in responses; confidence and motivation; co-operation,
teamwork and interpersonal skills; and leadership potential
and skills at negotiation. Academic competence is naturally
required, but constitutes only a relatively small part of
Success in Careers Takes More Than IQ
Law, engineering, medicine, and MBA graduates will find
it more important to have a high competence level in emotional
intelligence. We know that university admission policy for
professional degrees is generally very selective, focusing
almost exclusively on intellectual abilities. One needs a
certain threshold competence to get into such courses, research
showing the entry level to be within the range of 110 and
120 in IQ. Once someone jumps over that strict barrier, he/she
is going to find himself/herself surrounded by colleagues
within the top 10 - 12% of intelligence.
Technical expertise and professional education are like
a baseline cut-off point determining if you can get the job.
Thus, IQ does not offer much competitive edge in careers.
Once you are in, it is the other competencies, such as emotional
intelligence, that you bring to your professional expertise,
which to a great extent, determine your performance. And the
higher hierarchy one occupies in an organisation, a higher
level of emotional intelligence is required.
Emotional competence can be grouped into personal competence
and social competence. Personal competencies, like self-awareness,
self-regulation and motivation, determine how we manage ourselves.
Emotional awareness occurs when we recognise how various
emotions shape what we perceive, think and do. Our feelings
are always with us. However, we are too seldom aware of them.
Instead, we typically are aware of emotions only when they
build up and boil over.
That awareness therefore, can be advantageously used to
fine-tune on-the-job performance of every kind, managing our
unruly feelings, keeping ourselves motivated, tuning in with
accuracy to the feelings of those around us, and developing
good work-related social skills, including those essential
for leadership and teamwork.
Except for the financially desperate, people do not work
for money alone. What also fuels our enthusiasm for work is
a larger sense of purpose or passion. Given the opportunity,
people take jobs that give them meaning, that which engage
to their fullest their commitment, talent, energy and skill.
The less aware we are of what makes us passionate, the more
lost we are. Self-awareness, therefore, offers us the chance
to keep our career decisions in harmony with our deepest values.
Self-confidence is necessary for superior performance. Without
it, people lack the conviction essential for taking on tough
challenges. The absence of self-confidence can manifest itself
in feelings of helplessness, powerlessness, and self-doubt.
In contrast, self-confident people see themselves as efficacious,
able to take on challenges and to master new jobs and skills.
Not just skill alone, but also a belief in our skills can
guarantee our best performance.
Self-regulation would include managing one’s internal
impulses and the ability to keep disruptive emotions in check.
When stresses pile together, they seem to multiply the sense
of pressure. If stress is sustained, the likely result is
burnout or worse. However, resilient people, who are optimistic
and action-oriented, have a remarkably rapid recovery from
stress. If something goes wrong in their lives, they immediately
start to think about how to make it better.
When we are preoccupied by emotionally driven thoughts and
under the sway of impulse, agitation and emotionality, our
ability to think, work, learn or adapt suffers. However, self-control
boosts our ability to stay committed and upbeat, feel in control,
and be challenged rather than threatened by stress. In fact,
with the right emotional resources, what seems threatening
by others can be taken instead as a challenge, and met with
energy, and enthusiasm.
Emotional intelligence also underpins motivation. Motivation
here means that achievement drive, the drive towards excellence,
the commitment, having initiative, and a high dose of optimism,
in the face of setbacks and obstacles. To reach the top, people
must love what they do and find pleasure in doing it. Emotions
are what fuel our motivations, and our motives in turn drive
our perceptions and shape our actions. For star performers,
excellence and pleasure come together.
Social competencies, such as empathy and social skills,
determine how well we handle relationships. Sensing what others
feel without their saying so captures the essence of empathy.
Social skills would include influence, communication, conflict
management, leadership, building bonds, collaboration, co-operation
At the very least, empathy requires being able to read another’s
emotions. At a higher level, it entails sensing and responding
to a person’s unspoken concerns or feelings. And at
the highest levels, empathy is about understanding the issues
or concerns that lie behind another’s feelings. Unless
we have self-awareness, it will be difficult to be conscious
of others’ emotional terrain.
Empathy is essential as an emotional guidance system, helping
us to get along well at work. Particularly in business dealings,
understanding how someone feels leads to more skilful negotiation
and management. As a result, tough decisions may generate
less resentment and lasting ill will for the other parties.
Also, the ability to read what the market wants means empathising
with customers and then developing the products that suit
Star performers are artful at sending emotional signals,
which makes them powerful communicators, able to sway an audience.
Emotions are an extremely efficient mode of communication.
The essence of eloquent, passionate, spirited communication
involves the use of facial expressions, voices, gestures and
body movements to transmit emotions. People who have this
emotional adeptness are better able to move and inspire others,
and captivate their imagination. For instance, people wielding
effective tactics for persuasion are able to sense or even
anticipate their audience’s reaction to their message
and can effectively carry someone along towards an intended
One talent of those skilled at conflict resolution is spotting
trouble as it is brewing and taking steps to clam those involved.
Here, the arts of listening and empathising are crucial. Diplomacy
and tact are qualities crucial for success in touchy jobs
like auditing and mediation as any negotiation is an emotionally
charged event. The ability to read the opposition’s
feelings during a negotiation is critical to success. Resolution
requires that each side be able to understand the others’
viewpoint as well as their needs and fears. Obviously, skill
at negotiation matters for excellence in professions like
law and diplomacy. Yet, to some extent, everyone who works
in an organisation needs these abilities. Those who can resolve
conflict and head off troubles are the kind of peacemakers
vital to any organisation.
Leadership entails exciting people’s imaginations
and inspiring them to move in a desired direction. It takes
more than simple power to motivate and lead. The artful leader
is attuned to the subtle undercurrents of emotions that pervade
a group, and can read the impact of his actions on those currents.
One way leaders establish their credibility is by sensing
these collective, unspoken feelings and articulating them
for the group, or acting in a way that tacitly shows they
Today, organisations are reshuffling, divesting, merging,
and going global. The acceleration of change through the 1990s
and into the 21st century has made the ability to lead a newly
ascendant competence. More and more companies are putting
premium on people who can lead.
Change & Collaboration
Today, change is constant. Inflexible people are ruled by
fear, anxiety and a deep personal discomfort with change.
People competent in adaptability relish change and find exhilaration
in innovation. They are open to new information, and can let
go of old assumptions, and so innovate and adapt the way they
Yet, the act of innovation is both cognitive and emotional.
Coming up with a creative insight is a cognitive act. But
realising its value, nurturing it and following it through
calls on emotional competencies like self-confidence, initiative,
persistence and the ability to persuade. Examples are everywhere,
showing how risk taking and the drive to pursue innovative
ideas is the fuel that stokes the entrepreneurial spirit.
Today, the paradigm of invention, even in science, is changing
its focus from the individual to collaboration. In fields
of complex modern technology and business, we are in an era
where ideas of a single person seldom lead to significant
progress. Indeed, adapting nimbly to shifting market realities
requires a collective creativity, which in turn necessitates
people to be comfortable with uncertainty at every level of
Cutting-edge knowledge grows through orchestrated, collaborative
efforts. Each of us has only a part of the information or
expertise we need to get complex jobs done. The network or
team of people of whom we can reach out for information and
expertise is increasingly important. We have come to depend
on the group mind as never before. Everything is done collaboratively.
There are hardly any lone geniuses. Social intelligence matters
immensely for success in a world where work, especially research
and development is done in teams. There must be ability to
pull people together, to attract colleagues to the work, to
create the critical mass for research.
Research has shown that when the team works reasonably well,
the group score will be greater than the average individual
score. But when the team has real synergy, its score far exceeds
even the best individual score. When teams operate at their
best, the results are more then simply additive: they are
For groups to perform at their best, they need to foster
a state of internal harmony. Such groups leverage the full
talent of their members. Certainly, superb intellect and technical
talents do not make people great team members. The extra element
that makes a team great is a strong emotional bond amongst
its members. This bond is crucial to morale and effectiveness,
enabling each group to work well and excel under extraordinary
Teams are everywhere in business. There are the instant,
ad-hoc teams called into being over the course of a meeting,
or a short-lived virtual group working together on a one-time
project. The ability to make everyone on a team love what
they are doing together is at the heart of team building and
team leadership. It is arrived through a combination of shared
competitive drive, strong social bonds and confidence in each
other’s abilities. These are the kind of teams that
are successful in today’s entrepreneurial high-tech
organisations. And the best team leaders are those able to
get everyone to buy into a common sense of mission, goals
The good news is all emotional competencies can be cultivated
with the right practice. Unlike IQ, they can improve tremendously
throughout life. In the normal course of a lifetime, emotional
intelligence tends to increase as we learn to be more aware
of our moods, to handle distressing emotions better, to listen
and empathise. In the new workplace, with its emphasis on
flexibility, teams and a strong customer orientation, this
crucial set of emotional competencies is becoming increasingly
essential for excellence in every job.